After the long, hot shower, I went to my room, wrapped in a robe and just stood there, looking out the window for a long time. I could see Josephine and Squirt figuring out how to be mother and newborn calf. They appeared to be enjoying the process, in no hurry and without fear.
I want to talk to Grandpa, I thought.
I threw open my closet door and briefly considered going through all of my clothes again for another perfect outfit but, oddly enough, this time I didn’t care. This time, I wanted to wear something comfortable and pretty, because that’s what I needed. I wondered about that, mildly amazed at my own unpredictability. I reached for an old cotton sundress my mother had made for me. It was yellow and blue with a full, swingy skirt that stopped just below my knees. I hadn’t worn it in so long, it felt new to me.
I looked at myself in the mirror while brushing out my hip-length black hair. Mom says that except for my greenish eyes and upturned nose which I got from her, that I look like my Grandpa.
Is that how Josephine called me? I wondered. Because I have hozho, like Grandpa?
“I’m nuts,” I told the mirror and walked out the door.
The house was silent and the wind-up cuckoo clock told me it was mid-afternoon. That meant Anna would be napping. When I stepped out onto the porch, I heard far-away voices and knew that everyone was in the wood shop, where Will was usually working on some beautiful piece of furniture or carving. My family was showing Daniel around. I didn’t want to see any of them. I wasn’t ready yet. I slipped back inside, took my sandwich off the table and went out the back door, eating as I walked.
From the back door, there is a path that leads through the kitchen gardens which are straw bale beds, and past the windmill and water storage tank. It is very green there, with herbs and teas growing everywhere in the shade of the tank where the water sometimes overflows. The mint was already six inches tall and as I walked through it, the strong scent of peppermint rose up to perfume me.
Just before the tank, there is a gate in the fence. All of the human area is inside the fence. This prevents the animals from eating our garden and leaving manure everywhere. I latched the gate behind me, walked past the tank and looked down. The hill slopes down quickly into the valley and in that spot, I can see the whole lake, the outer pasture and Grandpa’s little cabin.
The ducks were diving for minnows and quacked a greeting in my direction as I reached the path around the lake. I laughed at them. Ducks seem so matter-of-fact compared to chickens. I know for a fact that they’re both dumb as dirt, but ducks come across as smarter for some reason. But they sure do make a mess. I watched the path carefully as I went, my sandaled feet avoiding the occasional duck droppings.
Grandpa was on his porch again, in the chair that Will had made for him. It is a beautiful cedar slat-back chair, with wide arm rests and a deep seat. Grandpa looks small sitting in that chair. He nodded at me as I reached the steps.
“Hi, pretty girl,” he said, and offered me a bowl of peanuts he’d been shelling. I raised my half-eaten sandwich to show him that I was still eating.
“Didn’t you have lunch yet, Grandpa?” I asked, dismayed that I hadn’t thought to bring him a sandwich too.
“Yes, I did, I’m just teasing. Your mother made me a sandwich and Susanna brought it down.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes and I felt myself starting to unwind. Just being with Grandpa did that for me. I have got to figure it out before he dies: how to be comfortable with life. Maybe I should start smoking a pipe. I laughed. Grandpa laughed too but never asked me what was funny. Maybe he knew.
“How’s the new mama?” he asked.
“They’re happy as can be. We brought them up to the small pasture. The calf is nursing and Josephine is looking stronger. They’ll both be fine.”
“She was happy to see you this morning,” he said. “She called and you came.”
“So did you.”
“I was chance. You were providence,” Grandpa said.
I tried to figure out what he meant but before I’d thought it through, he gestured across the valley with his pipe.
“We’ve got company,” he said. I followed his gaze across the valley. Sure enough, my whole family was headed toward us and Daniel was with them. I wiped my mouth to make sure there was no sandwich left on my face and sat a little straighter, with my back against the pole to the right of the top step. I felt ready now. This was the right place and the right moment.
“Hi Mona!” Susanna shouted. She was excited about Daniel’s arrival and was grandly giving Daniel tour-like information in between the rest of the family’s conversation.
“And this . . . ” she said dramatically, “is our lake! And that is our Grandpa!”
For a moment, I saw them all like an outsider would, as the odd-but-friendly country people they were. Mom and Dad were holding hands, and Anna was riding on top of Dad’s shoulders with two fists full of his black hair. Mom’s brown braid swung with each step and she was wearing a stained apron, as usual. They were smiling and talking.
Will, Jake, and Daniel walked a little behind Mom and Dad. Will looked relaxed. Jake looked like he wished he was a little older. Daniel looked dazed, handsome and a little pale and weak, compared to the hardy farm boys with him. Susanna ran back and forth from Mom and Dad to the boys, talking non-stop.
“Hi Grandpa and Mona,” Mom said, as they reached the steps. “I haven’t even seen you two yet today. You had a busy morning!”
“Hi Mom. Yeah. It was pretty cool, though.”
“Will has been calling you ‘the Cow Whisperer’,” Dad said, swinging Anna down onto the step next to me. I hugged her and she gave me a wet kiss on the cheek, and then scrambled across to Grandpa and climbed into his lap. Dad smoked Grandpa’s pipe a moment and handed it back to him.
“Full moon tonight, Dad,” he commented.
“Time to plant,” Grandpa said.
“Corn’s been in for two weeks already.”
“Supposed to plant corn at new moon,” Grandpa replied, looking at Dad suspiciously, as though he was wondering if Dad could’ve forgotten the very basics of life. “Full moon is for planting out the trays.”
“I know, Dad.”
The boys arrived at the porch. Jake and Will greeted me, and sat down near me on the edge of the porch as Dad introduced Daniel to Grandpa. Daniel had both hands shoved into his pockets.
“Hello, Sir,” he said to Grandpa, stiffly.
I felt sorry for him. I would be nervous too, if I had to go live with strangers. And we are pretty strange, I said to myself.
Daniel looked at me. This time I smiled at him, wanting to make him feel more comfortable. He smiled back and for the first time, seemed a little confident and outgoing. He stepped closer to the porch and stuck out his hand in my direction.
“Hi,” he said, as I shook his cold, clammy hand. “I’m Daniel. I don’t think I’ve met you yet.”
I laughed, thinking he was being funny. Everyone else laughed too and then Daniel started to turn red. Then I realized that he didn’t recognize me from this morning’s meeting. My hair had been in a braid and I had been filthy and too embarrassed to look him in the face.
“Hi Daniel,” I said, curbing my laugh into a smile. “We already met earlier but I was such a mess that you probably don’t recognize me now that I’m cleaned up. It’s nice to meet you too. I hope you aren’t totally overwhelmed by all of us.”
“Uh. Oh. Yeah . . . yeah, right. I met you, I just, yeah, you look great now,” he said awkwardly and flushed again, letting go of my hand quickly and shoving his hands back into his pockets.
“You do look great,” Dad commented, appearing to see me for the first time. He winked at me covertly so that no one else could see. This time, I was the one who turned a little red. Dad thought I had dressed up for Daniel.
The one time I didn’t dress to please is the time everyone thinks I did, I thought and sighed.
“I’m not overwhelmed,” Daniel interjected, trying to hold on to the conversation. He shifted from foot to foot and pulled one hand out of his pocket with apparent effort. He cleared his throat and strengthened his voice.
“This is a pretty cool place to visit. I mean, I like it. I—uh—I don’t know much about farms but, um, it seems pretty straight forward. I won’t be here very long but thanks for having me. I appreciate it—sir.”
This last sentence was directed at my Dad and I got the impression it was the first speech of any length that Daniel had made since being here. Everyone was quiet, listening to him.
“You’re welcome, Daniel,” Dad replied seriously. “Like Mona said, we may be a little overwhelming at first but know that you are welcome and we hope that you will enjoy your summer here with us.”
“Yeah,” added Will, “we’re glad you’re here, Daniel.”
After that, everyone chimed in—even Grandpa and Anna. I smiled at Daniel again, glad for this moment for his sake. I could feel the tension inside of him lessening as he looked around at all of us and smiled hesitantly at first but then broader as Jake and Will pounded him on the back.
It felt like the ice was broken at that point and from then on out, Daniel began to belong.